Buran Suprematism

Buran Suprematism

Buran Suprematism

I was mucking around with a 3D model of a Buran spacecraft, when I switched all the objects to display as bounding-boxes. Result - instant Suprematist composition.

In "From Cubism and Futurism to Suprematism: The New Realism in Painting", written in 1915, Malevich wrote the following:

"If all artists could see the crossroads of these celestial paths, if they could comprehend these monstrous runways and the weaving of our bodies with the clouds in the sky, then they would not paint chrysanthemums"

Buran Suprematism Buran Suprematism

In the Suprematism Manifesto, he speaks of a pure expression of visual abstraction, just as the form of a plane is determined as a pure expression of its purpose.

"It was nothing other than a yearning for speed ... for flight ... which, seeking an outward shape, brought about the birth of the airplane. For the airplane was not contrived in order to carry business letters from Berlin to Moscow, but rather in obedience to the irresistible drive of this yearning for speed to take on external form."

Kasimir Malevich is a fascinating character, prone to making bizarre proclamations about the nature of space and time, that seem ever more prescient in the technological imperative of modern society. Malevich's Suprematist painting are a search for imagery and composition which does not seek to represent, but create new forms. The paintings and constructions ("Architectons") are manifestations of a multi-dimensional spatial composition, and speak of a new language of non-objective form-making.

"The new art of Suprematism, which has produced new forms and form relationships by giving external expression to pictorial feeling, will become a new architecture: it will transfer these forms from the surface of canvas to space. The Suprematist element, whether in painting or in architecture, is free of every tendency which is social or other wise materialistic."

Architectons

Inevitably marginalised during his own lifetime, Malevich emerges today as the epitome of the avant grade artist - dense, often unfathomable, and bending space, time and language to his will.

"I have destroyed the ring of the horizon and stepped out of the circle of things."

One of my favourite photographs shows Malevich at the Vkhutemas, surrounded by his students, and like Alan Partridge, holding a big plate.
Malevich

Shuttle Hexagon Lensflare

Shuttle hexagon lensflare

During the first few minutes of the rather curious documentary Around the world in 60 minutes, shown recently on BBC Four, there is a stunning short sequence of the Space Shuttle Atlantis (mission STS-132) as filmed from the International Space Station.

As the shuttle slowly approaches the ISS, suddenly a myriad of iridescent hexagon lensflares flood across the screen. It's beautiful.

Here are some screen shots.

Shuttle hexagon lensflare Shuttle hexagon lensflare Shuttle hexagon lensflare Shuttle hexagon lensflare Shuttle hexagon lensflare Shuttle hexagon lensflare

Decaying orbiters

Space Shuttle Enterprise

As the US Space Shuttle Discovery lands for what is almost certain to be the last time, and as the NASA shuttle program winds down, it is a timely moment to examine how the legacy and celebration of the Shuttle program contrasts strongly with the fortunes of the Soviet 'Buran' shuttle program.

A Buran mockup at Gorky Park

As this intriguing article explores, the various test prototypes and production models of the Buran lie largely forgotten at various sites across the former Soviet Union. Only one, the OK-GLI test vehicle (the equivalent of the Enterprise), has made its way to a museum in Germany. The only orbiter ('Buran') actually to make it into orbit, in 1988, was destroyed when the hangar it was kept in, at the Baikonur Cosmodrome, collapsed in 2002, killing 7 people. The only other orbiter ('Ptichka') which ever made it onto the launch pad (for a series of tests) is still in a hanger at Baikonur, with no-one seemingly knowing what to do with it. The incomplete 3rd orbiter has recently been moved out its construction hanger at the NPO Energiya factory, to free up space on the factory floor, and now stands forlornly on the pier at Khimki.

Buran 1.03 orbiter

It is a stark contrast to the inevitable scramble by museums to secure the 3 remaining US Space Shuttles once they have finished active duty. The Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum Udvar-Hazy Center, near Dulles International Airport in Virginia, which already has the Enterprise prototype, is likely to upgrade this for the Discovery. Endeavour and Atlantis, when they are retired from active duty, will also find eager takers, despite a likely $42 million price tag. (Hopefully the Science Museum will try and secure the Endeavour, named as it is after the ship that Captain Cook sailed to Australia).

Is it that the US does heritage and legacy better than the Russians, or is there something deeper here? Are there cultural values that make the Americans want to celebrate and make cultural artifacts, even commodities, of their spacecraft, whilst the Russians seem not to know what to do with their craft, celebrate their achievements, or even document thoroughly the history of the program.

Buran and Space Shuttle comparison

The relative fortunes of the US and Soviet Union space shuttle programs have long been a source of fascination to me. Both the Space Shuttle program and the Buran programs can be regarded as beautiful failures, neither achieving the aims for which they were designed, but nevertheless still capturing the public imagination with the dream of making spaceflight part of everyones experience.

But the tragedy that the legacy of the Soviet shuttle program has failed to be preserved, celebrated and even documented, shares a striking similarity with the fate of much modernist architecture across the former Soviet Union. One only has to look at the parlous state of seminal architectural masterpieces such as Ginzburg's Narkomfin, or Melnikov's Rusakov Workers Club, to feel a melancholic sense of futility. Clementine Cecil and the team at MAPS are doing a great job of trying to document 'buildings at risk' in Moscow and across the former Soviet Union, but they can do little more than bear witness to the gradual decay or destruction of some key architectural works of Soviet modernism.

Narkomfin Nakomfin model

Whilst there is an irony in the concept of restoring and preserving works of the modern movement that itself often sought to forget the past and the build the world anew, there is much that these projects can teach us about the excitement as well as the perils of rejecting what has gone before in a relentless quest for the new. Likewise the space race that led to the two space shuttle programs has much to teach us about the history of superpower relations during the 20th Century, and the innovation fostered in a period of intense cultural and ideological competition.

Red Mars

Since June 2010, six would be astronauts have been locked in a sealed capsule in research facility outside Moscow, pretending to fly to Mars.

Mars500 In probably the longest ever role-playing session ever attempted (and certainly beating the time some friends and I tried to play Dungeons and Dragons for a continuous 24 hour stretch), the six volunteers have been going through all the motions of a spaceflight to Mars (except the zero gravity), in a project called Mars500. The experiment is designed to test the stresses and strains that come with being locked in a box for 500 days, conducted at the [Institute of Biomedical Problems])http://www.imbp.ru/Mars500/Mars500-e.html).

Mars500

Mars500

Now, on Valentine's Day, Feb 14 2011, the Mars500 team will attempt a fake landing on Mars, and step out on the surface of the mock Red Planet - a Martian Potemkin village. They will explore the alien planet for 2 days, before climbing back inside the capsule for the 8-month flight 'home'. Once again the simulation has superseded the real.

Capricorn One All this sounds identical to 1978 sci-fi movie Capricorn One, the basic premise of which was a faked manned mission to Mars. In this film, James Brolin, Sam Waterston and OJ Simpson manage to break out of the their film-set captivity into the desert, to try and reveal the deception that is being foisted upon the American people.

Capricorn One The theme of a fake Soviet space mission was the subject of Victor Pelevin novel Omon Ra, published in 1992. Here, the protagonist believes he has flown to the moon only to discover himself in part of the Moscow Metro.

The Soviet Union has long been obsessed with the effects of long-term space travel, the Soyuz missions of the 80's and 90's to the Mir space station placing their cosmonauts on ever increasing mission durations and tests of human endurance. In 1992, Sergei Krikalev was aboard Mir when below him the Soviet Union collapsed, but that didn't stop him flying future missions to the International Space Station, and he holds the record for the most days spent in space, at 803 days.

Having lost the race to land on the Moon, the Soviet Union turned their attentions to Mars. It seems that while NASA were sending spacecraft further and further to explore the outer reaches of the solar system, the Soviets became ever more preoccupied with conquest and colonisation, rather than discovery. Pelevin used Omon Ra to illustrate the fixation of the Soviet establishment on "heroic achievements" which could be broadcast to the outside world. Mars500 is perhaps the latest continuation of this.

This post sponsored by Portakabin:
Modular construction

Cities and Cosmonauts 3

Buran on launchpad at Baikonour

Liam Young and Kate Davies, lecturers at the Architectural Association, are leading a study visit to Chernobyl and Baikonour next July, as part of their Unknown Fields nomadic studio.

"This year, on the 50th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin’s first manned space flight, we will pack our Geiger counters and spacesuits as we chart a course from the atomic to the cosmic to investigate the unknown fields between the exclusion zone of the Chernobyl Nuclear Reactor in the Ukraine and Gagarin’s launchpad at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Beginning in the shadows of nuclear disaster we will survey the irradiated wilderness and bear witness to a sobering apocalyptic vision. We will skirt the retreating tide of the Aral Sea and mine the ‘black gold’ in the Caspian oilfields and caviar factories. We will wander through the cotton fields of Kazakhstan and tread the ancient silk road before reaching the shores of the cosmic ocean bathed in the white light of satellites blasting into tomorrow’s sky. In these shifting fields of nature and artifice we will re-examine our preservationist and conservationist attitudes toward the natural world and document a cross-section through a haunting landscape of the ecologically fragile and the technologically obsolete."

I'm glad that others have recognised the spatial and architectonic qualities of Baikonour. There are of course the hauntological aspects, the disused and abandoned launchpads, and the tragedy of the collapse of the hangar in 2002 where the last Buran was stored, crushing with it the dream of resurrecting the Soviet shuttle program that was hinted at by Leonid Gurushkin's announcement of 2001. "We have been dreaming of this time," said Gurushkin.

But it is too easy to regard Baikonour as a monument to failed dreams, and forget that it is still a working spaceport. It is a truly disurbanist settlement, to a much greater degree than the compromised linear city plan for Magnitogorsk or the other Sotsgorod. It is a town whose locus is off-world, the earthly counterpart to a true Kosmograd yet to be built.

Buran on launchpad at Baikonour

If, like me, you maintain that the Soviet Space program enabled the secret continuation of the Constructivist project after the rise of Stalin, then Baikonour is a site of key architectural importance.

This is another in a series of posts on Kosmograd sponsored by Portakabin:

Prefabricated buildings from Portakabin.


Previously:

Cities and Cosmonauts 2

Jeremy Geddes paintings/

Jeremy Geddes paintings

The theme of the Lost Cosmonaut has been a continuing inspiration for the artist Jeremy Geddes.

In a series of paintings, Geddes explores the romance and the desolation of the cosmonaut, floating in space, or crashed to Earth. The figure of the Cosmonaut is often placed in a deserted urban setting.

Jeremy Geddes paintings

There's a line from the Silver Jews song People which goes:

"People send people up to the moon, when they return well there isn't much, people be careful not to crest too soon.".

Many astronauts, most well documented being the Apollo astronauts who went to the moon, could never reconcile their lives afterwards and depression and alcoholism were commonplace, and Neil Armstrong became a recluse. Many Soviet cosmonauts experienced similar post-mission trauma, including Yuri Gagarin.

Jeremy Geddes painting

If cosmonaut art is your thing you should also check out this series by Justin Van Genderen, beautiful montages inspired by the Soviet space program.

This is another in a series of posts on Kosmograd sponsored by Portakabin:

Prefabricated buildings from Portakabin.


Previously: